Aug 31, 2023 | Mental Health, Leadership, Community and Partnerships, Faces of HDGH
Every August 31st, we recognize Overdose Awareness Day, and I can’t help but reflect on the impact and stigma surrounding substance use. It’s crucial that we talk about these issues and shed some light on harm reduction and how individuals can access available supports and services.
Substance use continues to be a growing problem within our community, but it’s important to remember that we are not alone in this struggle. Communities across Canada and beyond face similar issues. Discussing the collective impact of substance use is vast and worthy of a blog in itself!
Let’s take a moment to remember the lives we have lost in our community from overdose. It’s heartbreaking to think about the lives we have lost as a result of overdoses. Each number represents a human being, a life, each with a unique story to be told, heard and remembered. These individuals are loved and deeply missed by their families.
While there is a delay in confirming overdose data, it is estimated that there were nearly 100 overdoses in 2022. It will unfortunately be a similar number for 2023. If the current trends continue, in 2026 it is forecasted that there could be 150 annual deaths from overdose in our community.
Overdoses can be intentional or unintentional and 98% are accidental. They can be fatal or non-fatal, with a staggering 70% of overdoses occurring in private dwellings. It’s essential to note that most overdoses can be reversed and prevented from death by using a medication called Naloxone.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with families who have lost loved ones and each story is devastating. Some cope with their loss by giving back and becoming advocates for change. They develop a strong moral duty to do better and prevent others from experiencing the pain and suffering they have endured.
It’s important to understand the stigma addiction plays and the effect it has on individuals with addiction. The stigma is rooted in the misguided belief that addiction is merely a personal choice; that someone lacks willpower or has failed morally. Despite addiction being recognized as a treatable medical condition, it’s frustrating that the stigma persists. The stigmatization inevitably leads to feelings of shame and hopelessness, making it less likely for individuals to seek help and creating a major barrier for access to care. It’s important we work together to educate and influence those around us to end the stigma around addiction.
It’s important to understand that individuals with addiction can vary in their motivation to change. The best indicator of achieving recovery is the motivation for change. We know there are many individuals living with substance addiction and have no plans or motivation at the present time to change their behaviour. For this group, harm reduction methods are important because it offers methods for reducing known harms associated with substance use. For example, taxi cab and designated driver programs help reduce the harms associated with alcohol consumption. Similarly, providing clean supplies for medication use and distributing Naloxone can reduce harm for opioid users.
Mental health and addictions are often associated with one another, but there are unique elements with each disorder. If an individual has both a mental health and addiction issue, they should ideally be treated for both simultaneously.
The addiction system is designed in a way that there is no “wrong door”. This means that individuals should be able to access services independently, or get connected to other services through any various local addiction service providers. There are a variety of addiction treatment and service options available, ranging from less intensive treatment, such as a digital tool like Breaking Free Online, which uses cognitive behavioural therapy, to a more intensive treatment such as live-in addiction treatment program like those offered by the House of Sophrosyne and Brentwood.
Treatment options include inpatient or bedded treatment, outpatient counselling, day treatment, medication-assisted treatment, withdrawal management services, harm reduction, family and/or group counselling, mutual aid/self-help, and digital resources. The best addiction treatment strategy is one that is mutually established between the individual and their care team. I’ve spoken to many individuals in recovery. Each journey is unique, as is the treatment and services that aid them in achieving and maintaining recovery.
For an individual with an opioid use disorder, the best practice supported by medical evidence is the use of medication-assisted treatment, prescribed by an addiction specialist or primary care provider, along with psychosocial treatment. The most common medication used for opioid addiction is suboxone. A lot of people are hesitant to have to take medication to address an addiction. It’s important to understand that suboxone will satisfy the body’s dependence on opioids without the euphoric or “high” feeling. It is also possible to slowly stop using the medication as the individual becomes more resilient in overcoming relapse through psychosocial care, changes to their environment and supports.
Please take the time to reflect on the impact of substance use and the stigma that surrounds addiction. It's important that we recognize harm reduction strategies and the availability of support services. By working together, we can create a more compassionate and understanding community for individuals struggling with addiction.
There are many local resources available to help an individual access addiction treatment and services. At Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, the Withdrawal Management Services (WMS) program is often a natural access point for adults aged 16 years or older who are driven make healthier lifestyle changes, and are looking for support in their recovery process. Individuals who access WMS are offered brief supportive motivational counselling, case management, and positive client-centered discharge planning that supports holistic, positive life changes.
HDGH’s Addiction Assessment and Referral Program (AAR) is also a good non-urgent service that’s available on a walk-in basis. AAR helps individuals, aged 16 years or older, navigate community resources for addiction.
Patrick is HDGH’s Director of Mental Health and Addictions, overseeing inpatient Mental Health and Addiction (MHA) beds, bedded and community Withdrawal Management Services (WMS), inpatient (provincially accessible) and outpatient problem gambling and digital dependency services. Since 2017, he has been the Chair of the HDGH Mental Health and Addiction Patient and Family Advisory Council (MHA PFAC). In 2022, he received HDGH President’s Award for Excellence in Leadership Award. Outside of HDGH, Patrick is the Co-Chair of the Windsor Essex County Opioid & Substance Strategy (WECOSS) Leadership Committee and most recently a participant with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit’s (WECHU) Stakeholder’s Advisory Committee for the proposed Consumption Treatment Services (CTS). Patrick continues to be actively engaged in various opportunities to discuss, raise awareness and improve mental health and addictions services in our community.
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